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Guatemala - Political Parties

Parties of the Right
Party of National Advancement
Partido por el de Adelantamiento Nacional
Guatemalan Republican Front
Frente de Republicana de Guatemala
Parties of the Center Right
Solidarity Action Movement
Movimiento para Accion y Solidaridad
National Centrist Union
nion del Centro Nacional
Christian Democrat Party
Christiano de Democracia Partido
National Union of the Center
Union del Centro Nacional
Parties of the Left
National Liberation Movement
Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional
Social Democratic Party
Partido de Socialismo Democratia-
New Guatemalan Democratic Front
(formed 1996)
The URNG became the MLN
after the final peace accords were signed

The nature of the Guatemalan state in the democratic period must be understood by the limited ability of political parties and their leaders to manage the transition from the old economic models to modern ones. The lack of long-term accords has impeded the formation of stable political coalitions. No political ideology, party or movement has won reelection to the country's highest office in over 30 years.

This constant alternation of power has conspired against the continuity of basic public policies. In part due to this phenomenon, the education system -- the foundation for allowing citizens to live in a modern society -- has not been reformed during the democratic period. Moreover, there is still no legal certainty for the population or for investments, and the tax system remains stuck in a morass. As a result, democracy has not been able to generate political parties or social movements that take root at the national level.

In a modern political party system, citizens should identify with a political party based on whether the citizens ideas align with those promulgated by the political party. As such, measures of ideology are highly relevant. Guatemalans tend to favor the ideological center.

Historically, there were two prominent power actors: ideologically conservative businessmen and high-ranking military officials from the middle classes who derived their influence by maintaining the army as an institution of social and political control. The political parties distinguished themselves between those that mobilized the social base to gain power and those who opposed them while at a disadvantage and under persecution. In contrast, almost all popular movements were opposed to the power groups, or openly challenged the established political system.

The Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations (Comit de Asociaciones Agrcolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras - CACIF) is the de facto political party of Guatemala's economic elites. It is a hierarchical organization, well organized, conservative but flexible, and increasingly sophisticated -- an organic class apparatus in the classic sense of the term. CACIF takes on a visible and belligerent role in times of conflict, most notably during administrations in which the institutionalized economic agents lose influence. This is what happened during the rule of the Christian Democratic Party (1986-1991) and the Guatemalan Republican Front (2000-2004), in addition to other critical junctures.

Guatemalans have the lowest participation in voting and lowest support for political participation rights as well as the political system in general in Central America. One survey carried out in 1992 found that less than one Guatemalan in 20 belonged to a political party or community organization, only one in five supported participation in political parties, 72% believe that community organizations accomplish nothing, and over 50% believe that it is a better use of time to stay home rather than join a political party or community organization.

The young Guatemalans between the ages of 18 and 29 - Generation Y - grew up in a democratic environment and are compared to those generations which preceded them. There were no statistically significant differences found between the young people of Generation Y and the other generations concerning the following ideas: level of support for democracy as an idea, satisfaction with how democracy functions in Guatemala, or preference for a democratic government above an authoritarian one.

Guatemala's parties are centered around personalities. In a nation-wide CID-Gallup survey conducted from April 3-12, 2006, respondents were less likely to identify with a party than a candidate. Sixty-six percent indicated they did not prefer any political party over another; 11% named UNE, Colom's party, followed by GANA (6%), PAN (5%), and FRG (5%). In addition, when asked, "How much do you feel you are represented by the country's current political parties?" only 13% responded either "somewhat" or "very much." These results also underscored the ongoing failure of Guatemala's political parties to institutionalize and expand their bases of support. Instead, Guatemalans continued to identify much more strongly with individual candidates than parties.

The PAN's November 2002 primary generated significant animosity between the two leaders of the Party -- Oscar Berger and Leonel Lopez -- and neither side sought a rapprochement with the other in the early days after the election. Despite Berger's overwhelming primary victory, Lopez Rodas continued to exercise significant control over the party organization through his influence with its local affiliates and his majority in the party's Executive Committee. Several of Berger's financial backers echoed the views of a Prensa Libre editorial calling on Berger to broker peace with Lopez in order to preserve party unity. They argued that Berger's unwillingness to make concessions to Lopez threatened to split the party, making a loss in the national elections more likely.

With the registration of twelve presidential tickets complete, by September 2003 the presidential race had narrowed to four main contenders (only the top two in the first round, on November 9, will contend in the second round, on December 28). Oscar Berger of the tripartite GANA coalition is ahead by all measures, and seems certain to make the second round. Alvaro Colom (National Unity of Hope Party (UNE)), leads ruling Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) candidate Efrain Rios Montt for second place in the polls. Lionel Lopez Rodas, the National Advancement Party's (PAN) standard-bearer, trails behind the three front-runners in the polls but has effectively emphasizing a tough anti-crime message, responding to voter concerns.

In Guatemala's 09 September 2007 national elections, Center-left candidate Alvaro Colom, of the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party, limped into the first round with an anemic performance in the 30 August 2007 CNN debate and a major poll showing him tied with center-right challenger Otto Perez Molina of the Patriot Party (PP). Nonetheless, Colom's stalwart rural base delivered him a nearly five-point lead over the former general. UNE won 30.4% of the seats in Congress, more than any other party, and also won a plurality of mayoral races. On 04 November 2007, Alvaro Colom of the National Union for Hope (UNE) Party won a runoff presidential election against retired General Otto Perez Molina, with 52.8% of the vote.

Polls predicted that the third-, fourth-, and fifth-place presidential contenders (GANA's Alejandro Giammattei with 17.2%, CASA's Eduardo Suger with 7.5%, and FRG's Luis Rabbe with 7.2%) would get a substantially smaller share of the vote than they in fact did. The same trend held true for their congressional candidates, giving all three political muscle and bargaining power. GANA had the second-largest congressional bench, with 36 of the 158 seats. Former de facto President Efrain Rios Montt's FRG had 15 seats, down from 27 in the current Congress, and CASA had five.

Rigoberta Menchu, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, of the Encounter for Guatemala (EPG), dropped from fourth in the polls to finish in sixth-place with 3.1% of the vote. Her party's congressional slate did twice as well, receiving 6.2% of the vote. Furthermore, Menchu won only 2.4% of the vote in her hometown of Uspantan, Quiche. The reasons for Menchu's rout are complex, but the explanations one commonly hears include: the indigenous community is fragmented, and Mayans from other groups are unwilling to be represented by a Quiche; she lacks political skills; her campaign lacked resources; and that she is an indigenous woman in a society dominated by ladino men.

Indigenous leader Rigoberta Menchu created the political movement Winaq ("people" in several Mayan languages) in 2007, during her presidential bid, to promote the rights of the country's indigenous peoples. Winaq has begun the process to legally incorporate itself as an indigenous political party and plans to complete the process prior to the 2011 elections. Winaq's participation in the 2007 presidential elections made political parties realize the need to have increased indigenous representation in their own ranks.

Several small, leftist parties won so few votes that they lost their legal standing as political parties. These include the Guatemalan Democratic Christian Party (DCG), the Party of Authentic Integral Development (DIA), and the New Nation Alliance (ANN). The presidential candidate for the ANN was former guerrilla commander Pablo Monsanto, whose pro-Cuban Armed Rebel Forces (FAR) assassinated US Ambassador John Gordon Mein in 1968.

As of 2009, at least 90 of the current 158 members of Congress at one point were affiliated with the National Advancement Party (PAN) and switched to other political parties based on their personal interests. PAN was considered a right-wing party in the 1990s. The left wing characterized it as the big money, big business party.

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